THE LAST WHITE KNIGHT (Paul Saltzman). 78 minutes. Opens Friday (February 1) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For times, see listings. Rating: NN
Here's a noble experiment: director Paul Saltzman (Prom Night In Mississippi) returns to Greenwood, Mississippi, where in the early 60s he worked as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to help blacks register to vote. There he connects with Greenwood resident and Ku Klux Klan member Delay De La Beckwith, who punched him out 40 years ago.
De La Beckwith agrees to a sit-down in which he talks openly about his racism, guns and violent behaviour - though he's coy about whether he was involved in the shooting of black activist Jimmie Travis and about his father's murder of Medgar Evers. The hook is that, though he still detests Saltzman's views, he's slowly starting to like him.
Too bad the project fails. Part of the problem is that Saltzman can't keep his focus. He intersperses his interview with commentary from other people, including Morgan Freeman, Harry Belafonte and other activists like Evers's brother, who describe the vibe of Klan-controlled Greenwood. There is a very good sequence, however, in which present-day hooded Klan members, while sounding like absolute morons, complain about unintelligent blacks.
But the racist South and the civil rights movement have been handled far more expertly in other docs - see Soundtrack For A Revolution, for example. Saltzman's just scratching the surface, substituting cheesy graphic-novel-type illustrations for archival footage.
Saltzman's way too self-serving, structuring the sequences with De La Beckwith as if he himself were the hero of the film. The Last White Knight would have been much better had he concentrated on the film's central relationship and revealed a bit more of himself in the process.